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Political Economy of China Graduate Discussion Group: Ruling like Qing China, modelling State Capacity in an Absolutist State

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China’s long-term economic dynamics pose a formidable challenge to economic historians. The Qing Empire (1644–1911), the world’s largest national economy before 1800, experienced a tripling of population during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with no signs of diminishing per capita income. While the timing remains in dispute, a vast gap emerged between newly rich industrial nations and China’s lagging economy in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. Only with an unprecedented growth spurt beginning in the late 1970s did this great divergence separating China from the global leaders substantially diminish, allowing China to regain its former standing among the world’s largest economies. This lecture will explain how deeply embedded political and economic institutions that contributed to a long process of extensive growth before 1800 subsequently prevented China from capturing the benefits associated with the Industrial Revolution. During the twentieth century, the gradual erosion of these historic constraints and of new obstacles erected by socialist planning eventually opened the door to China’s current boom.

About the Speaker Debin Ma is Associate Professor of the Department of Economic History at London School of Economics. He obtained his PhD in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and had taught in the United States, Japan and China. He is currently research affiliate with with University of Warwick, Australian National University, Shanghai University of Finance and Economics and Fudan University in China. He has served as Secretary General for International Economic History Association in 2012-2015. His current main research interest includes long-term economic growth in East Asia, international comparison of living standards and human capital and comparative political and legal institutions.

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